This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

21Dec/12

BARBARA

Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Barbara (Nina Hoss) try to retain their humanity under difficult conditions in 1980 East Germany

BARBARA (Christian Petzold, 2012)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway between 62nd & 63rd Sts., 212-757-2280
www.adoptfilms.net

Christian Petzold’s Barbara is a gripping, eerily slow-paced psychological thriller that explores fear, paranoia, and responsibility. Nina Hoss, in her fifth film with writer-director Petzold, gives a subtly powerful performance as Barbara Wolff, an East German doctor who has been shipped off by the government to a country hospital run by Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld). It is 1980, and Barbara has done something to get on the GDR watch list, causing her to be under near-constant surveillance. She carefully looks around everywhere she goes, wondering if the woman on the bus, the man out for a smoke, or the person on the pay phone is working for the Stasi. She is most suspicious of Andre as he attempts to get close to her, asking her personal questions and trying to spend more and more time with her. Meanwhile, Barbara has secret meetings with various people, including her West German lover, Jörg (Mark Waschke), who wants to get her out of the east. But as much as Barbara wants to live a free and open life, she is also a dedicated doctor who has become attached to two patients: Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a pregnant woman who does not want to be sent back to a labor camp, and Mario (Jannik Schümann), who has suffered a potentially fatal head injury following a suicide attempt. Petzold (Something to Remind Me, Wolfsburg, Yella), inspired by the likes of Claude Chabrol, To Have and Have Not, and The French Connection, drapes Barbara in a compulsive feeling of paranoia and dread, creating a blanketing atmosphere of mystery and imminent danger in which one wrong move can result in capture, imprisonment, or worse. Wrapped in a cloak of suspicion, Barbara evokes for the viewer what living in 1980 East Germany might have been like. The complex relationship between Barbara and Andre is handled with great skill by Petzold, balancing their individual needs with their responsibilities to their profession and the state. Germany’s official submission for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film, Barbara is a tense tale that examines the cold war in unique and fascinating ways.

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